Oh, Darn!

Okay, now that I’ve abused the word darn for the title of this post by making the most overused joke in the fiber arts, I’ve decided to look it up. I’m too lazy to haul out my Oxford English Dictionary (1929 edition), so I’m going to use the dictionary that comes with my computer:

darn |därn| verb [ trans. ] mend (knitted material or a hole in this) by weaving yarn across the hole with a needle.

For the purposes of this post, the crucial part of this definition is the word weaving. You see, when I give someone a hand-knit item, it comes with the Yarnboy Lifetime Guarantee (YLG), which allows the recipient of said item to return it to me for repairs at any time during the life of the item (or the recpient . . . thus far, all of my recipients are still alive*). There are a couple of reasonable limits to the YLG; for example, there’s no way in hell I’m going to repair lace. Secondly . . . um, gotta check the fine print.

Until recently, no one had taken me up on the YLG. Either the items I knit are so awesome that they never fray, or  my recipients hate their hats, sweaters, socks, and scarves never make it out of the closet (or off the rack at Goodwill).  Then, a couple of months ago, my friend Ned returned a pair of socks with the surest sign of a well-loved item: a hole worn in each sole.

When I composed the YLG, I didn’t actually know how to repair anything. Oh sure, I could sew up a single broken stitch, but holes? For that, I consulted this article, following the directions for a hole that occupies more than one row of knitting. Which brings us to the definition above. Strictly speaking, what I did to Ned’s socks was not weaving at all (an actual woven repair follows these instructions); it was a total reconstruction of the knitting itself. Here are the results:

It was much harder than that article makes it look. Matching gauge is nearly impossible, as is matching yarn that has been underfoot, quite regularly, for over three years. Well, no matter; I warned Ned that the repair wouldn’t be pretty, and it isn’t. Like any good friend, he assured me that comfort was more important than style. Besides, the repair is on the sole, and who’s going to see that? Right? Anyway, as a word freak, the real question that bugs me is whether or not, by definition, I actually darned those socks.


* After I wrote the first draft of this post, I turned off my computer and sat down on the toilet, at which point I suddenly realized this statement wasn’t true. At least one recipient of my hand-knit items is no longer among us. Thus far, I have not received any requests for repairs from beyond the grave.


  • =Tamar says:

    Given that early machine knitters were described as “weaving” knitted garments on a machine “loom,” I say that the correct kind of mending, which you did, is true and proper darning. The imitation kind that is woven back and forth like true tabby weaving is inferior work and only qualifies as “darning” by virtue of having been done with yarn on knitwear.

  • AnnaBlume says:

    The repair work you did on these socks is absolutely amazing.

    Still, although I agree with Tamar that “the imitation kind that is woven back and forth … is inferior work”, it is, however, the method used by most people who actually DO darn socks (and yes, there still are a few in the world!). Again, conventional “darning” is indeed inferior work, but it DOES serve to mend the hole, and that relatively quickly and easily, and the part that is darned will tend to last you as long as the rest of the sock will. That said, nowadays I would only even consider darning socks if they are hand-knit treasures.

  • Anonymous says:

    I was curious enough about this same subject to look it up on wikipedia sometime before reading this blogpost. Apparently, there are several different kinds of darning, each of which is best for different types of fabrics. The technique you used, which works best (and looks best) on knitted fabric is called Swiss darning.


  • Tallguy says:

    I always thought “darn” was the word to describe repairing any fabric. If it was woven, I would weave over the hole, but if it was knitting, then I prefer knitted repair work.

    To me, weaving does not have the stretch that knitting has, so it won’t be the same kind of fabric. Knitting the patch is just much more in tune to “repairing” than anything else.

    I have repaired socks with holes, or thin spots, in them. I used the duplicate stitch method, or Swiss darning, and it worked very well. In fact, it helped me understand the structure of knitting, and how to repair many of my other mistakes (such as a dropped stitch, or a purl when a knit was required). I have filled in holes with the underlying structure to rebuild the knitting. That was fun!

    I have repaired sweaters that developed holes or were showing signs of wear. The hardest part is finding yarn to match; after that, the rest was easy. I think if I spent all that time to knit those socks, I can spend a few more minutes and repair them so they can be used for a little longer.

  • Aniela says:

    Obsessed with this hat!!!! Just wondering if the felowr is also made from bulky yarn? Hoping my mom will teach me how to do this soon! Especially love the grey/purple combo. Thanks for the free pattern!

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